Photo courtesy of Western Michigan Athletics
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Broncos played tough all season long despite a very difficult schedule and managed to finish 2011 at 7-6 overall, with a 5-3 Mid- American Conference record, good for third place in the league's West Division.
Coach Bill Cubit's seventh season at the helm of the program began with a tough loss to Michigan (34-10) in a game that was called early due to weather. The Broncos took down Nicholls (38-7) and Central Michigan (44-14) at Waldo Stadium to earn their first winning record of the season, but they fell to .500 again after failing to shut down Illinois's rushing attack (23-20). WMU finished its non-conference schedule on the road with a triumph over Connecticut (38-31).
The Broncos were a perfect 5-0 at home last season and will carry a seven-game winning streak at Waldo Stadium into 2012. WMU finished two games behind Northern Illinois and Toledo in the West Division standings.
The Broncos were extended an invitation to compete against Purdue in the Little Caesar's Bowl. WMU came up short against the Boilermakers (37-32) to end the year.
OFFENSE: The Broncos may have the best quarterback and pro prospect in the conference in Alex Carder. The senior signal caller eclipsed the 400-passing yards mark on five separate occasions and finished the year with 3,783 yards and 31 touchdowns. His ability to dissect secondaries gave WMU the best passing offense in the MAC with 337.3 yards per game.
Carder will not have his top three wide receivers from last season back as Jordan White, Chleb Ravenell, and Robert Arnheim all graduated. Replacing White's production will be especially difficult considering he led the nation with 1,911 yards, 140 catches, and 17 touchdowns. Wideout Eric Monette, who is a former walk-on, will be the first option in the aerial attack. Junior Josh Schaffer will bring some experience, while the freshman duo of Kendrick Roberts and Jaime Wilson will at the very least provide speed.
"Guys are ready to go and excited," Carder said. "There's a real difference here and nobody is afraid to go out there, step up and make plays. The goal is to win the MAC title. We need to go into each game looking to come away with a victory."
The offensive line which allowed 1.8 sacks per game in a very pass friendly scheme returns four of five starters. Cubit plans on using a running back by committee which will include Dareyon Chance, Tevin Drake, Antoin Scriven, and Brian Fields rather than have a feature back.
DEFENSE: WMU's defense allowed 28.7 points per game and was one of the worst in the nation at stopping the run (219.7 yards allowed per game). The Broncos have to improve those numbers while attempting to replace Drew Nowak, who was last season's MAC Defensive Player of the Year.
First-year coordinator Rich Nagy switched the defensive scheme to a 3-3-5 to maximize the effects of his secondary's experience.
The good news is Nowak was the only starter lost from the defensive line. Paul Hazel and Freddie Bishop are both capable pass rushing defensive ends. Sophomore CB Donald Celiscar earned a starting spot late last year and provided enough energy to keep his job through the off-season. Lewis Toler, Demetrius Pettway, and Justin Currie will join Celiscar in the defensive backfield to form a strong secondary.
Junior Johnnie Simon will be an important component again at the rover position. Simon was named to the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List after leading the Broncos with 114 total tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior RB Brian Fields is expected to assume both the kick and punt returning duties that were left vacant by departures. Redshirt freshman Andrew Haldeman will replace the four-year starter John Potter as WMU's placekicker. Haldeman is not the only rookie in the special teams game. True freshman J Schroeder is WMU's new punter.
OUTLOOK: WMU's offense might not be as explosive as it was last season (35.3 points per game), but the switch to a personnel friendly scheme on the other side of the football could provide a huge boost to the defense.
Cubit's team will be seeking revenge on September 1 when it travels to Illinois. WMU will also face the Minnesota Golden Gophers on the road and Connecticut at home as part of its non-conference schedule.
Broncos' fans have to be pleased that their team plays its top competition in the West Division, Toledo and Northern Illinois, at home where it has won seven straight.
"We're trying to do one thing here, that hasn't been done during our time here, and that's win a championship," said Cubit.
The Broncos will not be overwhelming underdogs in any game during the regular season thanks to Carder's leadership. WMU could very well be this year's MAC champion if a few of the underclassmen can manage to make an impact right away.